Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. You've all heard the name before. But what do you really know about this man who's gone down in modern history as one of the biggest drug kingpins? 50. Let's start with some personal details. On April 4, 1957, he was born in a place called La Tuna, in Sinaloa, Mexico. This was just a small rural community, the home of what you might call simple farmers. His father was a cattle rancher, although unofficially, he grew opium. 49. As for how life was, well, it was tough. Joaquín was the eldest child in the family. He had four younger brothers and two younger sisters, although he had other siblings that died young. When he was in third grade, he dropped out of school, which left him functionally illiterate for the rest of his life. If you're wondering what functionally illiterate means, it's basically being able to read and write a bit, but not enough to work in most jobs. His writing skills weren't even good enough to pen simple letters, which is why he had people write love letters for him when he was in prison. We'll talk about those later. 48. El Chapo sold oranges and candies as a kid to earn extra money. His mother once said about her young son, “Even as a little child, he had ambitions.” His sister, Bernarda, said back in those days, he'd always be able to make some cash. Then he'd buy a bunch of fake gold jewelry and show it off when visiting family members. 47. When El Chapo was still a young kid, he used to save little pieces of paper that he'd cut into the shapes of bills. He'd get a wad and tie it with a band, pretending it was real money. His mom later said, “He'd count and recount them, then tie them up in little piles…Ever since he was little, he always had hopes.” He told his mom to save the papers for him and hide them from his father, who, as you'll now see, was not exactly a good influence on the kids. 46. With the nearest school being about 60 miles (100km) away, El Chapo had little chance of getting any kind of education in his teens. Instead, he grew opium with his pop, but his pop would sell the stuff and usually spend all the earnings on booze and women. If El Chapo complained, his father responded with violence. If you didn't know, raw opium is turned into heroin, and that heroin makes its way to the United States. In the past, the British East India Company controlled much of the world's opium, and many years later, much of it came from what's called the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia. Later, much of it came from Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and then was often trafficked by the Turkish Mafia and the Italian Mafia. As time went on, much of the European heroin was grown in Afghanistan and moved by Turkish gangs, and Mexico dealt with the US heroin trade. It was easier that way, with less distance to travel. Marijuana cultivation was also highly profitable, and that's why El Chapo got into it at the age of 15. That was by himself, not with his father. His father kicked him out of the house, but that didn't stop El Chapo sending cash back to his mother and sisters. His mother adored her son. She once said, “He always fought for a better life.” That's why he moved out of La Tuna and joined the big leagues. 45. He started working for his uncle, Pedro Avilés Pérez. This guy was one of the first agricultural entrepreneurs to realize a lot of cash could be made by sending drugs over the border to the USA. He cultivated both opium and marijuana and is said to be one of the first people to use planes to get weed over the border. He was shot and killed by Mexican federal cops in 1978, likely set up by an up-and-coming trafficker. Such was the life. As you'll see, drug kingpins tend to stab each other in the back. 44. El Chapo then started working for Héctor Luis Palma Salazar. Just to give you an idea of the environment these guys worked in, Salazar's wife and children were murdered by a rival. More bloodshed followed, of course, but let's stick with El Chapo for now, who was no stranger to violence. 43. Maybe he had a little man complex because he was always trying to impress when he was coming up in those days. He had to win at any cost. During those early days of smuggling, he had one very simple rule if you worked for him. That was, “Lose the drugs, and you will die.” He meant it, too, shooting men who had messed up a shipment. Even if someone decided to buy drugs at a lower price, not from him, that could end with them getting shot in the head. He ruled by fear and it worked for him, which impressed the higher-ups in the Mexican drug world. It's how he came onto the radar of the boss of bosses, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo. 42. Known as the Godfather, Gallardo was one of the guys that started the powerful Guadalajara Cartel. This man had a lot of political connections. He was almost untouchable, and with his contacts in Colombia, he sent an unprecedented amount of cocaine over the border to the US. He set up something called the Federation, which consisted of various branches, or plazas, of Mexican gangs. Each of these criminal gangs got all the drugs they wanted, but just as important, they received the protection of corrupt cops and politicians that Gallardo had in his pocket. Basically, because US drug enforcement had been very good at clamping down on trafficking by Colombia's Medellín and Cali cartels, the Colombians decided to let the Mexicans do much of the trafficking. This is how weed-exporting farmers turned into giant criminal enterprises. We can't say these were peaceful times, but the Federation days were certainly better than what was to come. Back in those days, El Chapo and Ismael Zambada García were given control of the Pacific coast operations. This would later become known as the Sinaloa Cartel. Now you'll see how arrests create power vacuums and how they lead to violence. 41. Gallardo got arrested. In 1985, DEA agent, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Salazar, was kidnapped. He was tortured and then killed. This was revenge for the destruction of millions of dollars worth of weed. The DEA launched a massive investigation after that, concluding that Mexican officials and politicians had been working with the Narcos. Gallardo was seen as the man behind it all and responsible for the DEA agent's death. Now the Federation didn't have a leader, and El Chapo saw an opportunity. 40. From October until May of 1987, El Chapo moved 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg) of weed and about 10,400 pounds (4,700 kg) of cocaine to the US. He made about $1.5 million, most of which he sent back home to Sinaloa. He was just getting started, but the people from where he came from felt the cash injection. They would soon begin referring to him as a Robin Hood. 39. In 2020, new reports surfaced that the relatives of El Chapo were handing out much-needed food parcels to people in Sinaloa. El Chapo's face was printed on the packages. In fact, right after he started making the big money, some of it went to fund hospitals, clinics, and schools. He even helped build roads and other infrastructure. He wasn't the first to do this. Pablo Escobar had done it, as had the heroin trafficker from Burma, Kun Sa. Before you get all teary-eyed, just listen to what else El Chapo was capable of. 38. The story comes from a former bodyguard of El Chapo, Isaias Valdez Rios. He said that when El Chapo was in hiding, one day he got a telephone call. His men had captured some guys that worked for a rival cartel. After he put down the phone, El Chapo said, “They're sending us a gift.” When they got the gift, three men, El Chapo beat them with his own hands. He then broke their bones with a large stick. Finally, he shot the men and had their bodies burned. The same bodyguard said his boss also had a man buried alive. For being a bodyguard, he was paid just $175 a week. He said that while there was sporadic violence, most of the time, he just sat around sending and receiving messages on his phone. He told a court, “Sometimes I hardly ate. Even when Mr. Joaquín would rest in his cabin, I would try to sort of rest, but I'd have a small radio with me and he'd say 'Memín, what did so-and-so say? Memín, say this to so-and-so.'” Still, he said another day on the job might mean being part of a hit squad and executing someone. 37. Before El Chapo got to be the biggest drug lord in Mexico, he was renowned for being able to get drugs across the border. Those not close to him were often not sure how he did it. One of the reasons for his success was the tunnels he and his men built. They were the best tunnels around, better than anything that other Narcos had constructed. In later life, such tunnels would come to El Chapo's rescue. We'll talk more about this later. 36. He also sent cocaine across to the US in tins of chilis. The brand name was “La Comadre.” According to news reports, he smuggled $500 million of cocaine that way. 55 percent of the money went to the Colombian gangs that sent over the cocaine, and the rest went to El Chapo and his men. We're not sure how much the grunts got, but they got really high since the cocaine filled the air where they did the packing. 35. One of his tunnels ran from a house in Mexico and stretched to a house in Douglas, Arizona. To get to the door of the tunnel, a pool table needed to be lifted by hydraulics. 34. The cops found that tunnel, but none of El Chapo's men ever went back to it. That's because he was tipped off by a police chief named Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni. He'd received millions of dollars from El Chapo. 33. Once the Federation was no more, the boys from Sinaloa got into a war with the Tijuana cartel. This led to lots of blood spilled on both sides of the war. El Chapo narrowly escaped being assassinated more than once. 32. One time, El Chapo's men got into a gunfight with their enemy in a disco. Both sides fired over 1,000 rounds. Not surprisingly, people died, six in total. 31. On May 24, 1993, gunmen from the Tijuana cartel thought they had got their man. They were told El Chapo was hiding in a car at Guadalajara International Airport. About 20 men filled the car with bullets, but El Chapo was in another car. As for the occupants of the wrong car, one of them was the cardinal and archbishop of Guadalajara, Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo. Six other people were killed, too. El Chapo heard the gunfire and was able to sneak off just in time. 30. It was this murder of innocent people that made El Chapo a household name in Mexico. Only then was his face on the front of newspapers. “It is after the assassination of Cardinal Posadas that authorities begin to tell us there are big drug lords, and that one of them is named Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias El Chapo Guzman,” one investigator later said. 29. The Catholic Church in Mexico disagreed, saying it was an execution gone wrong. It said the shooters knew exactly what they were doing. Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez said forensic evidence pointed to it. He said the assassinated cardinal had been outspoken about how some high-ranking politicians were a bit too close to organized crime. He believed the hit was a conspiracy, which was perhaps one reason why El Chapo got away so easily. 28. Still, he was a wanted man after the airport shooting. He hid for a while, likely with the help of corrupt officials. He also handed $200 million to one of his men for the running of the Sinaloa Cartel, if he should get arrested. He gave the same amount to another man, money to take care of his family. 27. On June 9, 1993, El Chapo was picked up close to the Guatemala–Mexico border by the Guatemalan army. He was subsequently sentenced to over 20 years in prison for drug trafficking and other offenses. When asked if he was a drug trafficker, he said, “I'm a farmer.” As you'll now see, prison didn't set him back so much. 26. He was treated like royalty in the prison, with the guards acting as his very own servants. He not only got what he wanted in there but was also able to manage the cartel along with his brother, Arturo. We won't mention Arturo again but will tell you he was eventually shot and killed. 25. El Chapo certainly had his hands full during his wars with his enemies, but according to one former Narco who talked with Newsweek, the US authorities helped him and his cartel out quite a lot. That's because El Chapo was allegedly acting as an informant for the DEA, telling the agency about his enemy's trafficking routes and when they were about to send something over to the US. He also filled agents in as to who had killed who. According to this Narco, he'd personally go and visit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and start talking to the agents, who he said were always very polite. He told Newsweek, “One of the ICE agents said they were here to help the Sinaloa cartel.” That might sound strange, but that's how the war on drugs has been fought all over the world for a long time. The book “Drug War: The Secret History” details how law enforcement in the US and the UK had many secret informants. The downside for the authorities is traffickers have manipulated the agencies. A professor at the University of Texas said, the Sinaloa cartel was “duping U.S. agencies into fighting its enemies.” Even worse, when hitman and gangster Juan Carlos Ramirez testified in the US, he told the court that El Chapo bribed corrupt DEA agents with, “prostitutes, gifts, apartments.” 24.